Skip navigation
All Places > Higher Education > Blog > Author: Kalli Binkowski

Higher Education

3 Posts authored by: Kalli Binkowski

Updated 1/23/2020 with new RCE information

Introduction

A new year and a new semester is a time of renewal.  As you refresh and revise your courses for the coming semester, please consider making your content more accessible.

 

I hope you've heard that word, but here's what you really need to know about accessibility: it's about making your content easy for everyone to understand.  Yes, there are laws that require accessibility, before you get a student needing it, for those that are differently-abled.  But really, making content easy to understand benefits everyone.

 

This blog will cover really easy things you can do with the Canvas Rich Content Editor that will make your content much clearer and at the same time, more accessible.

 

This image below are two images, the current* and the new rich content editor.  The 4 circled icons that have functions that will help you create accessible content in Canvas.

 

Current Rich Content Editor

Lists, headings, Images, and accessibility checker icons are circled

 

New Rich Content Editor

alt text, headings, lists and accessibility icons are circled

Headings

Headings are the easiest way to start making your content clearer. In the past, you may have simple bolded the font of a heading and made it large.  Stop doing that!  Instead use the rich content editor and choose the heading level.  What this does it is allows a student that uses a screen reader to interact with the content the same way a sighted student would, all through the miracle of the background coding you don't have to know.

 

Header dropdown listWhen you want a heading, click "Paragraph" in the rich content editor.  In the dropdown, you can choose the heading that fits the level of your content.

  • You should use the Headings in order - In Canvas, the list starts with Heading 2, because Title and Heading 1 are already used in the standard Canvas layout.
  • Sample Headings could include: Overview, Introduction, Instructions, Examples, Grading.
  • When you hit enter after a header, the next line is automatically set to paragraph so you can start entering content.

 

When you set headings correctly this gives all students:

  • chunked content that is easily scanned.
  • a quick overview of the type of content on the page. 
  • a way to organize the content they read so they better understand and retain it. 
  • an easy way jump to the section with the content they need.

 

It is true, the format for heading 1 comes standard, and it may not be exactly what you want.  You can let that go.  What you loose in control you gain in consistency and accessibility.  (Ok, once you set the heading, you can change its font, but what a lot of extra trouble! Just be sure you set the heading level first and try to be consistent throughout your Canvas site.  This is why using the standard font for each heading is just easier.)

 

Lists

To further clarify your content, you should consider if a list is better than a paragraph.  When the answer is yes, use bullets for a list with no sequence and numbers for a list where sequence matters.  You may have been doing this, but having you been using dashes or asterisks or typing in the numbers yourself?  Use the rich content editor instead.

 

When you are ready for a list

  1. click the list icon that matches your needs
  2. type a list item
  3. Hit enter and continue entering items
  4. At the end of the list simply hit enter again or click the list icon to return to paragraph formatting. 

 

If you have already typed a list, highlight all the list items and choose the bullet list icon or the number list icon depending on your needs.

 

Here's what lists get you:

  • Organized, easily read content.
  • Content that is easy to rearrange. When you move an item in a numbered list, the list renumbers itself.
  • Automatic indenting for nice white space. 
    • Hit tab while in a list item and the numbering or bullets will change.
  • Clearly ordered sequences.

Again, using the rich content editor creates background information that will allow sight disabled students to interact with lists in the same way as sighted students, so the lists are useful to everyone.

 

Images with Alt Text

Ever have an image not load and wonder what it was?  Alt text would have saved your day.  For some students, alt text is essential.  The best time to add alt text is when you are adding images to your content.

 

  1. Click the image icon in the rich content editor.Alt text entry box
  2. Find your image.
  3. Create alt text for your image or designate it as decorative.
    • Note for the new RCE: Once inserted you click on the image and click the options button to insert the alt text.
    • In the current RCE: If you already have an image, select it and hit the image icon to add alt text.

 

Wow, I made that sound easy, but alt text takes practice.  The text you put in should answer this question: What is the content conveyed by the image?  So it isn't necessarily a description, but the point of the image.  Here are some other guidelines:

  • It should not be file names with things like ".jpeg" at the end. At least remove the ".jpeg".
  • Keep it under 125 characters.  Longer descriptions should be part of the accompanying text.
  • Do NOT use the phrases "image of ..." or "graphic of ..." to describe the image.
  • Context matters.  Only you as the content creator really know the point of the image, so you get to decide the alt text.

 

Just know that having alt text is so essential for some students that you should make an attempt. With practice, it will get easier.  WebAIM Alternative Text analyzes the same image several ways so you can see some examples that will help you improve your use of alt text.

 

Accessibility Checker

The last icon circled on the rich content editor image above is the stick person which takes you to the accessibility checker.  This will review the content on the page, identify what may need improvement and even give you some guidance on how to fix issues.

 

A Final Word

Please do not think that Canvas is the only place where you have tools to improve your accessibility; they are in every content creation program!  Hopefully you will now recognize the headings, lists, and image icons in everything from Google Docs to Microsoft Powerpoint.  Make accessibility just a part of how you work, and your content will be better for everyone.

 

 

*Please note that this image is from the University of Minnesota Canvas Rich content Editor. Yours may appear slightly different but should have many of the same features.  For more on accessibility, check out Accessibility.umn.edu.

Introduction

 

Students working in groups to learn just learn better.  That is what years of research have shown us.  Managing groups can be difficult, and not just during class.  Canvas has some group functionality that instructors can use to manage group work:

 

 

There are tricks to using groups, group assignments, and group discussions, but today we are focusing on how to change group membership in the middle of a term.

 

Changing Group Membership - Heeding the Warning

 

When you attempt to move a student into a new group after group submissions have already occurred, you get a very special warning:

 

Clone Groups warning

 

Being safe, most instructors will then Create a New Group Set and Submit.  Here are the problems that follow:

 

      
  • The change they were attempting to make initially did not occur in the original group, and it was also not done in the cloned group set.  So NO MEMBERSHIP CHANGES ARE MADE!
  •   
  • The new Cloned group set is not assigned to any assignments or discussions.

 

You have several more things to do to finish changing the membership. Here's what you need to do next.

 

      
  1. In People, click on the Cloned group set tab.
  2.   
  3. Change the membership of the groups, including the one you started with that prompted this whole process.
  4.   
  5. Go to every future assignment and future discussion.
  6.   
  7. Edit the activity.
  8.   
  9. Change the group setting from the original group set to the (Clone) group set and save.

 

Now you have adjusted the groups and all the future group assignments and discussions will be set up for the new groups.

Unless you missed one.  And if you did, once there is a submission, you can't change the group set.  Your only option is to duplicate the assignment, choosing the correct group set and asking students to submit again.

 

Advantages

 

      
  • Keeps an accurate history of group changes.
  •   
  • It is the option prompted by Canvas.
  •   
  • When you import and copy this Canvas site into a blank course site, only one group set is created and all previous group assignments/discussions are set to that "Project Groups" group set

 

Disadvantages

 

      
  • You MUST change the assignment/discussion settings for remaining semester.
  •   
  • If you want to maintain the group assignments to specific group sets when importing, you must create the exact group sets in the blank course site before importing the course content.

 

The Other Way - Ignoring the Warning

 

This way may not work for all instructors because it requires one best practice that must always be done when grading Group Assignments:

 

Once Group grades are entered, edit the assignment and check Assign Grades to Each Student Individually and save.

 

Check the grade individually box

 

There may be reasons you are already doing this.  It allows you to change the scores of group members that did not contribute or were absent.  The key is that this setting LOCKS IN all the grades as individual grades.  That gives you the freedom to change the existing group.

 

      
  1.  Attempt to move a student into a new group.
  2.   
  3. In the warning box, choose Change Existing Group and Submit.

 

That's it, you are done.  Future assignments are still using this group set with the newly modified group.  Past graded assignments have the grades locked to the individuals and are not changed.

 

Unless you weren't done grading a group assignment.  That's the only condition; you must have any group grading done and set to Assign Grades to Each Student Individually.  And this could be a pain if you have many changes to make.

 

Advantages

 

      
  • You do not have to change assignment group settings
  •   
  • The change you were intending to make is made.

 

Disadvantages

 

      
  • You have to be sure to check the “Grade individually” settings of assignments BEFORE you make the group change.
  •   
  • You do not have an accurate running history of group changes.

 

Which will you choose?

 

You can imagine that which you will choose will depend on where you are in the semester and what your normal grading practice is for group grades. Because Canvas prompts users to clone the group, that is the easiest, safest solution but the additional work of making the group changes and then changing the future assignments/discussions must be done.  If you always change group grades to the individually graded option, ignoring the warning might be for you.  

 

Need more information or a different explanation?  Check out Canvas: Changing Group Membership during a Semester.

 

*The CBS-RLT Tech Tip is written by academic technologists at the University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences.  It may contain references to Canvas settings and integrations that are specific to that institution. 

 

My favorite Ideas for improving groups in Canvas.  The ones without links are feature Ideas I haven't found yet.

 

 

Updated 11/4/19

It's the start of another school year, so what better time to use a tool that will make communicating with your students so much easier.  Announcements is so much better than just sending an email to your whole class. If you are not using the Canvas inbox, you will have to go through the trouble of getting all your students' emails and making them a group list in your email program.  If you are using Canvas inbox, it's pretty easy to email the whole class, but with the flood of emails students will be getting from instructors and TAs at the start of a semester, it is really easy to lose an email.

 

Wouldn't it better if you had a tool that:

  • automatically notified every student in your class and
  • showed up on the course home page the next time students go to the course site and
  • had all the announcements you ever sent for the course in one place where students could easily find old ones and read new ones?

Bonus points if that tool would allow you to:

  • easily link to things in the course site and
  • create your announcements early and have them post later at a date you choose and
  • automatically shift those posting dates when you start a new semester!

 

This is why you should be using Announcements.  Announcements has all of those features, including all the bonuses!

 

Creating an announcement

When you want to send an announcement to your entire class, choose to add an announcement (instructions).  

  1. You create the announcement.  You can add links and images or videos using the rich text editor and link to assignments, pages, or files directly using the content selector.
  2. Underneath the text box choose to add a delay date. Even if your delay is minutes, having a delay date will allow the date to automatically shift when importing your announcements to a new Canvas site. (Thanks Elson Boles for the clarification!)
  3. You can also choose to attach files and allow commenting and liking. 
  4. When you save, students are notified there is an announcement based on their notification preferences.  By default this is usually this is email but it can also be by text if students make that choice!

 

Setting announcements to show on home page

To ensure your announcement shows at the top of the home page you need to adjust the course settings

  1. Go to Settings > Course Details
  2. Scroll down and click on More options
  3. Check the box by  "Show recent announcements on Course home page" and choose how many announcements you want to show.  One is usually enough, or choose two if you communicate often, but avoid three as it takes up a lot of space on the screen.
  4. You can also choose "Disable comments on Announcements" as the default.

 

Shifting posting dates for a new semester

This process is pretty easy.  When you import your course content from one Canvas site into another, choose to shift the dates (instructions).  Not only will the assignments' dates shift, so will your delay posting dates!  Never again will you have to create that test reminder email!

 

A few warnings:

  • If you allow comments on announcements, it looks a lot like a discussion, but it cannot be found under the Discussions.  The announcement and all its comments stay under the Announcements item in the navigation menu.  This can be confusing to students.
  • Announcements will not be sent out if the course is not published.  Additionally, students that have never been in Canvas and have never clicked the Canvas agreement (like freshmen) will also not get announcements.  For this reason we recommend that any announcements before the semester starts are sent through your institution's system of record. *For the University of Minnesota, that would be MyU.  Go to your course roster and scroll down to find the Notify All button.
  • This doesn't work for sending emails to individual students, sections or groups.  The Canvas Inbox is the tool that will do that for you.
  • When you import your course to a new site, if you select all content, all the announcements will also be copied over.  If you did not set a delay date, your old announcements may be visible to students!
    • Announcements with a post date before the course is published will be visible to students as soon as the course is published. These announcements are not sent to students unless you edit the announcement. After editing and as soon as you save the announcement, it will be emailed to the address students have set up in their notifications, unless you have set up a delay date.(Thanks again Elson Boles.)  
    • Be sure you either delete or set a delay posting date (instructions) on imported announcements before publishing to prevent students from seeing the all the imported announcements immediately.

 

Did I miss any Announcement functions?  How do you use this tool in your courses?

 

*The CBS-RLT Tech Tip is written by academic technologists at the University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences.  It may contain references to Canvas settings and integrations that are specific to that institution. 

 

Updated 9/17/19

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: